My baby, the one who sleeps in the room next to mine, the one who looks so much like her brothers, is a blessing. When I was about six months pregnant, someone said to me that she would be a blessing. At that moment, still unable to believe that she would even be born, I managed to respond “But… I still wanted my other two babies.” I look at her now though, and see the tremendous light that she brings. Always a reminder of her sisters that came before her, and I will always make sure that she knows that. Continue reading
“All these years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately. But what I’ve discovered since is that lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.”
― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Before losing my babies, my brushes with death were distant or expected. Three of my grandparents had passed away. As a young adult, I knew several people who died in car crashes. I even knew a baby that died, but I was only in grade school. All were sad, but to a certain extent, I knew that grandparents would die in my lifetime. The others were people I knew, but didn’t know well. I was too young to really understand a baby dying.
All of these were profound, sad – but ultimately, I moved on. I thought that was the nature of death: you mourn for awhile, then move on. Then I lost my daughter and it was a searing pain I had never come close to experiencing. Grief that physically hurt. I didn’t think that anything could be worse than losing a child, and then I lost another child. I was isolated when others moved on: I understood, yet felt untethered. They were holes in my heart that could never be filled.
Butterflies have been chasing me around for days. A fellow loss-mama sent me a photo of a car’s bumper sticker that said “Will brake for butterflies.” I saw photos of butterfly hatching from its chrysalis on social media. I received a gift of butterfly decals for Autumn’s room, which I immediately applied to her windows. And yet, I cannot find my beloved butterfly bracelet. After the Butterfly Release earlier this year to honor all of the babies lost in my support group, I found a beautiful butterfly bracelet. I know I was wearing it recently – even took it to the hospital with me – and now it has vanished. I tore the house apart, looking in every place where I might have taken it off. Even tore the bed apart thinking that maybe, half-asleep, I took it off while napping. Nothing. I’m more upset by this than I should be – it is just a bracelet – but it was one of those pieces that I wore as a gentle reminder of my babies.
To further usher in the day, Nelle’s birthday, I have a rash on my face and pain in my abdomen. The rash is similar to what I experienced after losing Iris that a trip to the dermatologist and a skin biopsy later proved to be indeterminate – likely just a surge of hormones. They would fade with time. The pain in my abdomen is my c-section scar, aggravated by carrying a baby around with increasing frequency. I examined the scar, so recently a wound held together only by stitches. First excruciating pain and now tender, throbbing. Time will also heal. The physical after-effects of childbirth will fade. The grief will still be there, beneath the surface
I was holding Autumn and staring at her scrunched up baby faces. Her baby stretches. Her tiny movements are identical to her older brothers. I wondered: do all babies make these same faces? Or is it a characteristic of my babies? Would my other two babies have made these same faces? I cried on top of Autumn’s sweet black hair.
I wanted to do something to honor the day, but nothing felt right. Last year, I was a mess. I can’t even think “she would be two years old” because that would not have been possible at 21 weeks gestation. It is the day she was born, an anniversary of birth rather than a celebration of age. I lit a candle for her in solitude this morning. Happy birthday Nelle, my first baby girl. We loved you and planned for you and it still hurts.
That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive….
O my love, where are they, where are they going….
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.
Today. The day the course of our lives changed. Two years ago today was the day that we learned that Nelle was growth restricted. I wrote about it on this day last year, so uncertain at the time what the future held for us. Continue reading
“Your death really feels like a prison sentence…Upon the slamming of those doors for the first time, one fights and struggles and wrestles trying to get them back open – trying to get back to freedom and the world you knew. Then, once resigned, you decorate. You hang up a photo of something pretty, buy a plant, and drink a good cup of coffee. You move in for good and get settled. You’re still imprisoned so it all seems a little silly, but you do it anyway.”-from “Notes from a Cell with Flowers” by Julia Cho
The room trapped me. Swallowed me. Continue reading
When Autumn was born, suddenly there were echoes of her sisters surrounding me. Close parallels, repetitions, deja vus of the last two times I gave birth, with an intensely different outcome. Or is Autumn the echo of those experiences?
My body bleeds, shedding the remains of my uterus. It was torture to endure the physical postpartum symptoms, for weeks, with no baby at home. My heart was bleeding simultaneously, shredded and lying in raw pieces. Now I look at the physical aspect of postpartum and remember with pain the last two times I had to endure this. The last time my body went through the ritual cleansing after having released a baby.
My body lactates, the echo of when my body purposefully produced milk and I had no babies. Swollen and painful and frantically trying to suppress milk with sage and frozen cabbage leaves. Now I welcome the milk’s nourishment, but cannot forget those moments spent in the shower, trying to hand express milk to reduce engorgement, crying over the unfairness of lactating when I had no baby.
There are cards received in the mail. Meals delivered. Twice in sumpathy, once in congratulations but that’s what people do: they send cards and food.
I set up the nursery today. I had set up a nursery for Nelle. Same dresser. There were clothes that I unpacked, clothes that had been gifts for Nelle. Tags still on them. Unworn. A reversal of when those clothes had to be packed up and put away. That room was supposed to be Nelle’s nursery. Then Iris’s nursery. Now Autumn’s nursery.
There were stuffed animals, also gifts, that felt even more personally like they belonged to Nelle. One was a pink Ugly Doll. Each pregnancy, I bought my baby an Ugly Doll. Theo has one. Quentin had one. Nelle had one. There was also a stuffed dog, an early gift from someone; I can’t even remember. Do they belong to Nelle? Or do they belong to Autumn? Tears stung my eyes as those items came to light after so long in storage. It was such a strong emotional reaction to what those clothes meant and who they were for. They were not for Autumn. They were for Nelle. They should have been worn before now: hand-me-downs instead of tags intact.
And now there are photos. The only photos that all three share are ultrasound photos. Now Autumn is here and I take dozens of pictures every day, trying to capture every tiny facial expression and movement of the baby in front of me. I have already replaced the framed ultrasound photo with a newborn picture of her sleeping. She is so much more than an echo: she is a manifestation of her sisters, giving me a face where I previously could not picture my babies.